MONROVIA – The 2023 Presidential elections has come down to a simple but complicated ironic twist of fate with a chance for voters to choose what many believe is the lesser of two evils- a former ruling party with an ax to grind – and an incumbent government, battling allegations of bad governance and corruption, believing that its predecessor is not deserving of a chance to return to power and should instead allow it to have its shot at a second term.
By Obediah Johnson
This will be the second time President Weah will battle Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) for the Liberian presidency in a runoff.
It can be recalled that in 2017, Mr Weah beat Ambassador Boakai by 61.5% to 38.5% of the votes.
But for the first round of voting of the October 10 polls, the two contenders were neck-to-neck with President Weah obtaining 804,087 votes (43.83%), and Ambassador Boakai acquiring 796,961 votes (43.44%).
The runoff was necessitated due to the failure of the 20 parties and independent candidates that contested the elections to obtain 50 percent plus one vote in keeping with the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
The incumbent Weah appears to be struggling to retain the presidency as evidenced by the intense political campaign activities and strategies being carried out by the CDC and other affiliating political parties.
The uncompromising stance of many Liberians yielding for a change in national leadership due to extreme hardship, poverty and growing wave of economic constraints they continue to encounter on a daily basis are the other reasons.
Records from the first round of voting show that about 57% of Liberians voted against retaining Weah as President.
Despite their rejection, the ruling CDC has been mounting efforts ranging from influencing other political parties and individuals by offering jobs, vehicles and reports of financial inducement to crossover.
Some executives and stalwarts of the party have been seen distributing parceled of rice to citizens in the leeward areas, particularly counties that were won by the UP during the first round.
There have also been reports of threats of dismissals of Commissioners, Chiefs, health workers and civil servants, among others undermining the re-election of President Weah by openly canvassing and supporting the opposition UP.
As for the UP, the party has been catching hell to raise finances to support its campaign activities across the country.
Though the party seems to have won the admiration of the majority, through the crossing over of other opposition political parties that did well, the procuring of campaign materials and other logistics are not forthcoming as expected by the party during the campaign period of the runoff.
Many Senators, Representatives and other local entrepreneurs supporting or aligning with the UP are compelled to spend their own monies to run campaign in Monrovia and other parts of the country due to the lack of a sustainable campaign budget.
The entire campaign period for the runoff has been characterized by endorsements, political realignments, reports of backstabbing and breakaways from political parties pledging support to the candidates based on financial inducement, personal gains or patriotism which is at the lowest.
The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of Mr. Alexander Cummings, which came fifth, after obtaining 29,613 votes (1.61%), endorsed the re-election of President Weah. However, the party’s Standard Bearer Cummings abstained from the decision after a committee setup presented its findings. The United People’s Party (UPP) took similar path.
Senators and representatives-elect and defeated have also pledged their support to ensure that President Weah is reelected. Paramount among them are: Gbenzongar Findley of Grand Bassa, Luther Collins of Gbarpolu County district # 2, defeated Montserrado senatorial candidate Chernor Jalloh, Wokie Dolo, Lawrenso Korquoi (Nimba County) among others.
The youth leagues of few other opposition parties, including the Alternative National Congress, African Liberation League, Liberia Rebuilding Party, All Liberian Party, Liberian People’s Party, National Democratic Coalition, Liberia National Union, Liberty Party, All Liberian Coalition Party, and the Movement for Progress Change also endorsed Weah.
The CDC has been accused of dishing out cash to buy the endorsements of key political opponents, including popular talkshow host Henry Costa.
Costa, one of the planners of the famous June 7 protest noted for using derogatory comments against President Weah and his government officials, surreptitiously endorsed the Liberian leader, ahead of the runoff. Critics accused him of receiving US$60,000 to run a smear campaign and propaganda against Ambassador Boakai.
Few political parties that performed well during the first round of voting, including the Grassroot Development Movement of Edward Wade Appleton, All Liberia Coalition of Lusinee Kamara and the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) of Counselor Tiawan Gongloe endorsed Boakai.
GDM acquired 40,271 votes (2.20%), ALCOP got 35, 988 (1.96%), while the LPP accumulated 26,394 (1.44%). The Liberia First Movement (LFM) of Presidential Candidate Shiekh Kouyateh which obtained 5,100 votes or 0.28% also endorsed the UP flagbearer.
Gbarpolu County Senator-elect and former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, a strong confidante of ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, follow suit along with scores of other current and former lawmakers including Jonathan Sogbie and Milton Teahjay, of River Gee and Sinoe counties respectively.
Despite these endorsements and realignment, some political parties have been split as a result of the decisions made by their National Executive Committees to endorse the UP or CDC.
Many executives of the CPP, including former Foreign Affairs Minister Toga MCintosh, declined to support the CDC after his party had taken a decision. He and several others crossed over to the UP to support its Standard Bearer.
In the same vein, the Vice Standard Bearer of ALCOP, former Representative Matthew Darblo led few executives of the party to support President Weah, despite the decision taken by the party’s Standard Bearer Lusinee Kmara to support Ambassador Boakai.
The Chairman of GDM John Sonie and other executives also took issues with their Standard Bearer Edward Wade Appleton for “unilaterally” endorsing Ambassador Boakai without the consent of the National Executive Committee. The aggrieved partisans reacted by pledging their support to the reelection of President Weah.
Majority of the National Executive Committee (NEC) members of the All Liberian Party (ALP) led by their Chairman Theodore Momo, pledged to support Ambassador Boakai and the UP, even though the party’s Political Leader Benoni Urey and few others went the other way.
Still preferring Weah
In the wake of huge challenges and severe hardship many ordinary Liberians remain uncompromising to re-elect President Weah during the runoff.
Miatta Jimmy, 25, disclosed that an attempt to unseat Weah would slowdown development.
She expressed fear that a new government would discontinue the payment of WASSCE fees for students if the CDC led-government is voted out.
“I want President Weah to win again to continue development by fixing our roads and paying WASSCE fees.”
Peace and stability
Saah Williams, 43, wants President Weah retained for the sake of sustaining peace and stability in Liberia.
He admitted that though things are tough in Liberia, the maintenance of peace and stability would ensure that the country return to normalcy.
“I will be voting for Weah because for the past six years, we’ve been enjoying peace. We want to continue to enjoy the peace while development is ongoing.”
Benjamin Moore, 41, stated: “From the hand marks that we have seen for the past five to six years, George Weah is the best person for this country. I believe that if Liberians give him the second chance, he’s going to carry on more developments.”
He observed that President Weah continues to live up to his commitment made to Liberians, especially the payment of WASSCE fees for students.
“We shouldn’t mind because the cost of a bag of rice is high or to find daily bread is difficult, we should think about removing President Weah. We should look beyond the picture.”
He said despite the lack of more international financial assistance to Liberia under President Weah as compare to ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, “government is trying her best to move the country forward.”
“George Weah is the best person for Liberia right now because; he cares for us-the poor Liberians. For over two years now, I have not paid WASSCE fees for my children,” Victoria Swen, 51 noted.
She disclosed that her decision to vote for President Weah is due to his commitment made to shoulder the cost of graduation fees for all students when re-elected.
Reshuffle the government
Madam Swen, however, recommended that the Liberian leader reshuffle his government shortly after he is sworn into office.
According to her, many of those surrounding the President do not care about the wellbeing of ordinary citizens and the improvement of the country.
“I want for Weah to reshuffle the government because; most of his officials are not good. I am selling right beside Finance Ministry and I know what is going on. President Weah should change most of them. He cares for us but most of his government officials do not care for us.”
She said the failure of President Weah to reshuffle or dismiss public officials who are not working in the interest of the citizens would lead to his downfall.
On the other hand, many Liberians are also resolved to boot out the government of President Weah during the runoff.
One of those is Elijah Farmah, 29 who is a visually impaired Liberian. He claimed that President Weah has dashed the hope and aspiration of the masses, especially Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).
He said government is imposing additional hardship on disabled citizens as evidenced by the deep slashing of previous subsidies provided to various disabled groups and organizations by the past government.
He maintained that many disabled Liberians are compelled to beg in the streets along with their children due to the current situation they are faced with.
“In 2017 we voted for President Weah. Our expectation was he was going to change the lives of us the disabled people. But when he came to power in 2018, 11 disabled schools were receiving government subsidies; but President Weah cut everything down.”
“The best person to lead this country now is Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party. We believe that under his government, disabled people will be rehabilitated and empowered through technical and skill training programs. Some of us are not going to school and we want to learn.”
Farmah challenged Ambassador Boakai to fight against the trafficking and sale of illegal drugs in Liberia, including “kush” which continues to jeopardize the future of young Liberians, when elected as President.
He said the UP Standard Bearer should also ensure that enrollment and admission of disabled people at public schools and health facilities are free to help alleviate some of the constraints they are encountering.
“During Madam Sirleaf’s government disabled people were going to school. But President Weah’s government, majority of the disabled people are not going to school, most especially the visually impaired citizens.”
“There are lots of things happening under the government of President Weah and I pray that when Joseph Boakai gets in power tomorrow, he will not repeat those things. Number one has to do with corruption. In President Weah’s government, lot of people are corrupting the country and buying properties overnight. Some of them were living in one or two bed-room houses, but after spending few months in government, some of them started buying properties that they were not having before.”
Farmah wants Ambassador Boakai to take punitive measures against former and current government officials accused of corruption.
Deceived by Weah’s native background
Famatta Kowo, 55, was among the thousands of Liberians who voted President Weah into power in 2017. However, she has withdrawn her support by endorsing and campaigning for the election of Ambassador Boakai.
According to her, President Weah misled Liberians who stood under the rain and sun to vote for him during the past elections.
“Joseph Nyuma Boakai should be the next President for Liberia. I have more than 100 reasons. But I will only give you four. We voted George Weah because we felt he was a native and he was going to think about us the country people. But when he got there, he made some of us shame.”
She made specific reference to mysterious deaths, killings and the conspicuous silence and failure of the government to take actions, through President Weah.
“All the killings that were going on-I believe that some of those killings he (Weah) does not know anything about it. But as a leader, he supposed to take step for the whole world to know or see that he is a serious leader. When the auditors were found dead in the car, he who is the President said ‘it was boyfriend and girlfriend business.’ Who do you think they will investigate or prosecute for their deaths? Anything happens; he’s not able to talk.”
Running government on friendship
Madam Kowo observed that President Weah is leading the country on the basis of “friendship.”
She added that the Liberian leader has continuously failed to prosecute poorly performing or corrupt government officials who are in his circle.
She said President Weah has no “governance experience” as compare to Ambassador Boakai who has spent several decades in public service.
“President Weah does not understand politics; if he was going to understand politics, the thing that we are in today, was not going to happen. But when Boakai gets there, he already has the experience and these things will not be happening.”
Madam Kowo, however, challenged Ambassador Boakai to ensure that people bear the consequences of their actions which run contrary to the Liberian constitution.
“We don’t want to see this drug issue. Boakai should get rid of it and improve our hospitals because if you go John F. Kennedy medical center right now, they will only give you paraceltamol and write all the other medicines on paper to give it to you to go and buy outside. Even if your relative dies there and you don’t have money, you will not take the body (corpse).”
Samuel Waykor, 62, said: “Joseph Boakai is the lesser evil in this runoff and I am going to vote for him. He is God-fearing and he will not do anything arbitrarily. During his government, we are optimistic that we are not going to see the careless misapplication of public funds and the dismal disregard for the rule of law.”
Factors that could slim Weah’s chances of winning
Entrenched hardship and poverty among ordinary Liberians occasioned by the high rate of employment, economic constraints and the rise in the prices of basic commodities, are issues that many voters would bear in minds and take to the ballot box during the runoff to democratically unseat the government of President Weah.
Rampant corruption, the unjustified US$25M mop-up exercise and US$30M COVID-19 food, accumulation of questionable and ill-gotten wealth by President Weah and many of his officials in a short period of time, mysterious deaths and secret killings involving the Liberian auditors and others, high level of division and lawlessness, the widening gaps between the haves and haves not are other factors that would endanger Weah’s re-election
Many citizens, especially qualified and competent Liberians who are not executives or members of the ruling party, continue to feel marginalized or deprived from obtaining jobs in the Weah led-administration.
Despite their qualifications and experience, they have not been afforded the opportunity to serve their country because of their political affiliation or open criticism or opposing views to policies or issues crafted or supported by the government or the CDC.
Parents and guardians continue to complain about the exorbitant fees being charged by private school and university owners, with the government, through the Ministry of Education failing to carry out proper monitoring and supervision.
They have no other choice but to bear the pinch and go the extra mile to send their children to private schools or universities due to the low standard of learning being offered at public (government) schools in Liberia.
Tariffs on goods are high, making many marketers or entrepreneurs to clear their goods at airports and seaports of neighboring countries, and transport them on trucks to Monrovia.
The late political divorce between the CDC and other constituent political parties including the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), the Liberia People’s Democratic Party (LPDP), and the breakaway with the National Patriotic Party (NPP) may also hinder a second term for President Weah. Many executives and partisans of the party remain aggrieved and President Weah has failed to amicably find solution to the disputes.
The proliferation of illicit drugs and dangerous substances including “kush” which are endangering the future of the young generation remains a major issue that got Weah’s fate hanging.
Factors that could deny Boakai the presidency
Though the UP remains the only beacon of hope for the opposition and the thousands of Liberians who are yielding for a change in national leadership, the party stands the risk of losing the presidency if it fails to put in place measures to secure its votes during the runoff.
Already, CPP Standard Bearer Cummings has claimed that votes were stolen during the first round of voting.
If his claim is something to go by, the UP needs to solicit the needed financial resources to transport and sponsor poll watchers to the over 5,000 polling places across the country.
Furthermore, the party may be seen as opting for a third term following the previous terms served by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on its ticket in 2005 and 2011 respectively.
The lukewarm relationship between the UP and its former Standard Bearer has not gone unnoticed by many Liberians. Many of Sirleaf’s supporters and loyalists do not seem to be too comfortable and supportive towards a Boakai’s presidency.
The old –age factor of the party’s current Standard Bearer remains the “talk-of-the-town” issue among youths and old folks in Liberia, many of whom are supporters of the CDC.
Questions have also been raised over the ability of Ambassador Boakai taking independent decisions while steering the affairs of the country.
If the huge 57% of rejection against Weah’s presidency stands for the runoff to pave the way for the last dance, Boakai would be declared Liberia’s next President. However, intense campaigning activities and cash influence carried out by the ruling party may likely narrow the percentage or guarantee a possible win for the incumbent.
Whoever becomes the victor, the main issues Liberians from the both parties want the next government to prioritize is to focus on the pavement of major roads, increase access to stable and affordable electricity, adequate health care delivery, construction of more schools, and youth empowerment.
Others are: increment and the timely payment of civil servants salaries, sustained peace and security, holistic combat against drug trafficking and corruption, resumption of CADET program for young people.